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Death-by-legislation is not how it’s supposed to be in Delaware or elsewhere: Opinion

John McNeal is director of the state Council for Persons with Disabilities. The group opposes physician-assisted suicide. Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

An honest man doesn’t need to tell you he’s honest.

A wise, old friend shared that with me many years ago and I’ve never forgotten. It makes a lot of sense.

I thought of that phrase earlier this month as I was sitting in the House chamber at Legislative Hall in Dover listening to people debate proposed legislation that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in Delaware. The arguments were consistent with those made in the state in past years and earlier this year when a similar effort was beaten back by the narrowest of margins in Maryland.

Take a listen.

“We’re not forcing anyone to do anything.”


That was Rep. Paul Baumbach, the bill’s author and primary sponsor.

Rep. Paul Baumbach is the sponsor of the physician-assisted suicide bill in Delaware. Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

Another man stood to testify on behalf of the effort to allow doctors to provide medication that would enable people to end their lives. Some people with disabilities suspect there may be people — even those in government – who might get to a point where they begin to weigh the cost and perceived burden of those with disabilities and decide it’s time to make a judgment on what’s worthwhile.

“People with disabilities have no business being here,” the man said. “This is not about them.”

The remark drew a collective gasp from a number of people with disabilities. They have no right to be there? Really?

That’s when you really need to start worrying. First, they tell you they’re not forcing anything on anyone. Then, they tell you it has nothing to do with you.

The Medical Society of Delaware is not so quick to sign on for the march toward a state-sanctioned death panel. Most of its members recall they took an oath that requires them to uphold specific ethical standards. Even the most watered-down reading of this oath tells physicians they must not “play God” and that healing must always be their aim.

Unless you’ve been there, it’s difficult for a person to say how they would react when faced with excruciating circumstances and the not-too-distant likelihood of death. We all will die, of course, but it is those circumstances that will separate us as the hour draws near.

Those with faith have something more to draw upon, a belief that they were created by a higher being and have an eternity awaiting beyond life on earth. It’s that faith that carries us through and our desire for a better place.

It is those who do not share that faith who don’t want to be bothered by it. They don’t want someone else’s beliefs forced upon them. They point to lack of dignity and the potential for a painful death as reasons to be able to end existence for themselves despite the fact that modern medicine has enabled caregivers to alleviate unnecessary pain and provide comfort to those in a time of need.

John McNeal
John McNeal, director of the state council for persons with disabilities, waits to testify in opposition to Delaware’s physician-assisted suicide proposal.
Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

It’s a final stage of humanity, putting ourselves in the hands of others as we await the end of life as we know it.

Adding the idea that it’s best to provide government a seat at the table introduces all sorts of potential for trouble. We’re going to trust public officials to come up with parameters for life-ending measures? We want laws passed that say when it’s legal to ask a doctor to end your life?

No thank you.

In a foreshadowing of what to expect from life with a government-applied death, consider what we know to be the finality of such a decision and all the elements that fly in the face of reason – a faulty diagnosis, advances in modern medicine, unpredictable recovery, new reasons to want to carry on or an “oops-it’s-too-late” change of heart. All irreversible after submitting to death-by-legislation.

Another sad, but true piece of this effort is the desire of elected leaders to make it legal for doctors to lie on death certificates. Swallow poison to end your life? No matter. We’ll let a doctor sign a certificate that says you died from cancer.

What’s next? Make it legal for a doctor to sign my death certificate when I’m really not dead? I can make better use of that life insurance payout while I’m still around.

It’s the same unsound reasoning.

Let’s keep government running government. We know legislatures can raise taxes. We rarely, if ever, see them trim or eliminate them. Will they draw the line at this effort if they gain the right to help end people’s lives? Or will they find more ways to cut things short?

It’s better that we don’t find out.